2015.08.28 Friday 14:46

Democracy 70 years after the war's end

  As Japan greeted the 70th anniversary of its defeat in World War II in the midst of growing opposition to the government-proposed security legislation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must have realized that he has to run his administration under a variety of constraints.


One of such constraints is international opinion. Initially, Prime Minister Abe appeared to be resolved to issue a war anniversary statement that reflects his own perception of Japan’s modern history. However, it was obvious that a right-wing viewpoint of history, which tends to deny Japan’s responsibility for its aggression and colonial rule, was not to be acceptable not just to Asian countries but also to Western nations. For Japan to live as a member of the international community, the prime minister could not choose to publicize a self-righteous perception of history. As a result, the statement that Abe made on Aug. 14 deviated from his own personal sentiments and its message became weak because of its lengthy text. The prime minister did use an expression that apparently reflected his own thought — that Japan must not let its future generations be predestined to apologize for that war, with which they have nothing to do. He may have wanted to dispel the chagrin at having had to refer in the statement to the wartime aggression and the “women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.” As long as he and right-wing politicians close to him continue to try to deny that Japan had waged a war of aggression and justify its colonial rule, the new generations of Japanese will have to keep apologizing to the people of Asia. I wonder if the prime minister understands the logical structure of this problem.

Another — and even larger — constraint is the popular will. As long as Japan is a democracy, the acts of those in power will obviously be constrained by the will of the people. It was in fact an extraordinary situation that the prime minister, until just recently, did whatever he wanted on the strength of the strong popular approval ratings of his Cabinet. Abe might have preferred to paint the 70th war anniversary statement with his own colors if the approval ratings had stayed high. But he had no other choice but to take a low posture now that public criticism of his administration has gained momentum. And while he extended the Diet session through the end of September in order to secure enactment of the security legislation, he is reportedly ready to shelve the passage of his other controversial bills, including the one to exempt some office workers from work-hour regulations. This may indicate that the popular will is serving as a brake on the administration to some extent.

On July 1 last year, before Abe’s Cabinet made a decision the same month to justify Japan’s exercising the right to collective self-defense, I joined hands with other scholars in political science and constitutional law and launched a movement to protect constitutionalism — the Group for Constitutional Democracy. Its members are pushing the movement with a sense of crisis that a series of moves by the Abe administration threaten to destroy constitutionalism, which constrains political power with the Constitution. To be honest, the changes in public opinion since June this year went beyond our imagination. In prewar Japan, political parties used the term constitutionalism to oppose the dominance by bureaucrats and the oligarchy that ruled the country since the Meiji Restoration. After being pushed to oblivion for some time as postwar democracy prevailed, the term is back in circulation —triggered by the controversy over the security legislation.

 Our trial and error in pursuit of full democracy in this country over the past 20 years or so led us to rediscover the crude reality — that no other political party except the Liberal Democratic Party is yet capable of running the government. However, the LDP itself has lost the breadth and prudence that it used to possess, and is now dominated by politicians with little experience as lawmakers, whose words and actions border on those of right-wingers on the Internet sphere. And these lawmakers are trying to push through the Diet a set of bills that are labeled by a majority of constitutional scholars as unconstitutional.

Under such a situation, we may not have the luxury of advocating a system where political parties take turns running the government, but will need to return to the bottom line of constitutionalism, that is, putting a brake on political power by confining it in a certain frame. It is not that such a view is shared by citizens who take to the streets to voice opposition to the security legislation. But I am hopeful that the agenda of putting abrake on political power will gain sympathy and support from a broad range of citizens.

The movement for constitutionalism would not be sustained if it ends up being a game of whack-a-mole against arrogant leaders in power — a process that will be tiring for those who pursue the movement. We need to establish a custom in which those in power who ignore the Constitution will be severely punished by voters in elections. But that will also require creating an alternative political entity that can take the place of the LDP. I grew a bit tired after saying the same thing repeatedly ever since the Democratic Party of Japan lost power three years ago. Still I need to keep saying that. The opposition forces should work together to create a minimum set of agenda on important policy issues that can represent the energized citizens who are active in protecting the Constitution and peace. The Upper House election next year will be a crucial test for survival of constitutional democracy in this country.

Japan Times, August 26

2015.08.28 Friday 14:41













2015.08.24 Monday 14:39







2015.08.17 Monday 14:37






2015.08.10 Monday 17:54








2015.08.03 Monday 17:56

Transformation of political culture in Japan

Discussions on the government-proposed security legislation have brought to the fore a clear polarization of political culture in Japan. One of the trends is anti-intellectualism. The other is civic culture pushing for democratization.

Anti-intellectualism has permeated not only movements that champion nationalism and part of the mass media but also the political circles. In the first place, the security legislation itself can be deemed as a product of anti-intellectualism. Many scholars of constitutional law and former chiefs of Cabinet Legislation Bureau declare that the security legislation violates the war-renouncing Constitution. But the government has been unable to give convincing rebuttals to their argument. Because Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are allowed to possess weapons only for the purpose of defending the nation, exercising the right to collective self-defense to defend another country is out of the question under the Constitution. In the Diet deliberations so far, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani have not answered straight on the questions raised by lawmakers but instead spent their time dodging the questions.

In the cultural sphere, authors and politicians who do not hesitate to flaunt their anti-intellectualism continue to fuel discrimination and prejudice. Novelist Naoki Hyakuta, who was invited to speak at a gathering of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers supposedly to discuss issues related to culture and arts, suggested that the two local dailies in Okinawa, which are critical of national government policies, must be shut down while LDP lawmakers trumpeted controlling TV reports by applying pressures on the sponsors of their programs. Some politicians and conservative journalists even tried to justify such remarks in the name of freedom of speech. Japan is a country where attempts to defame others through demagogy or negate freedom are condoned in the name of freedom of speech.

Anti-intellectualism has deteriorated the quality of political parties. The LDP has lost much of the width of perspectives and the sense of balance that the party used to have. Few voices of criticism arise from within the party against the Abe administration’s push for the security bills. It lacks next leaders who can step in to remedy a situation when Prime Minister Abe makes mistakes. This is a crisis both for the LDP and Japan.

On the other hand, a new wave of civic culture has certainly emerged and is spreading, triggered by the movement opposing the security legislation. In 1960, the attempt by Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi — Abe’s grandfather — to revise the Japan-U.S. security treaty met with large-scale protest movements. However, the culture of civic political movements then disappeared. It was only after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis gave rise to the movement against nuclear power that citizens acquired the practice of taking to the streets on a daily basis to raise their voices on important policy issues. Civic political movements scaled down after the LDP returned to power but they continued. A new movement led by students has built on such forces to generate public opinion. The students in the movement are using emails and Line messages to expand their organizations and are successfully mobilizing thousands and tens of thousands of citizens in rallies around the Diet compound. Such actions by students have in turn led scholars to be ashamed of their own silence — with many of them starting to speak up against the security legislation and to express their opinions on other political issues, including their call on the government to clearly state Japan’s remorse and apology over its wartime aggression when Prime Minister Abe issues a statement marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II this summer.

Approval ratings of the Abe Cabinet in media opinion polls dropped sharply after the administration railroaded the security bills through the Lower House, falling from the level around 50 percent to less than 40 percent insome polls, while disapproval ratings surged in many polls to top approval figures.

Meanwhile, facing strong public criticism, Prime Minister Abe had no alternative but to scrap the controversial plan to build a new National Stadium — the main venue of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo — at a massive cost of ¥250 billion, although an order for its construction had already been placed to a general contractor. People harbored a specific anger because the issue at stake was how taxpayer money will be used. The episode has proven that public opinion is not powerless against a government action.

In East Asia, pro-democracy movements began in the latter half of the 1980s, starting with the ones led by students in South Korea and Taiwan. Japan has long defined itself as a pioneer of democracy in Asia and supposedly viewed those movements in its neighbors in a favorable light. In reality, however, democracy in Japan has been confined to the system of political parties and parliament - which is just a form. It must be said that in fact Japan is right now following the democracy movements that started in its neighbors such as South Korea and is trying to create a new political culture of its own, Seventy years after the end of WWII, Japan’s political democracy is at a major crossroads. Will Japan, with egocentric anti-intellectualism and suspension of judgment, destroy the peace and stability built on its postwar democracy? Or will the new civic culture turn the nation into a more mature democracy? I only hope that the Japanese people will make a wise choice as we think of war and peace in the war anniversary month.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.

Japan Times, July 331

2015.08.03 Monday 17:53







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